“Billions around the corner: Dozens of road projects get green light”

By Nate Delesline III
nate.delesline@insidebiz.com

I 64 and I 264 Interchange.jpg

Anyone who drives or travels in Hampton Roads knows these familiar, frustrating choke points.

Interstate 64 on the Peninsula west of Jefferson Avenue. The I-64/I-264 interchange in Virginia Beach. The High Rise Bridge in Chesapeake. And, of course, the infamous Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

Traffic improvements are around the corner for these spots and many others.

Major work is already under way to widen I-64 on the Peninsula. Ground was recently broken on the first phase of improvements to the I-64/I-264 junction. And transportation officials this month approved a major expansion of the HRBT.

“We’ve got $650 million in construction contracts on the street right now,” said Jim Utterback, the Virginia Department of Transportation’s district administrator. “And over the next year, with a couple of those big projects and the other work, we will add at least $1 billion to it.”

Aubrey Layne, Virginia’s secretary of transportation, credits Smart Scale, the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission and fresh leadership in the form of new mayors and other officials for providing momentum and support for all the projects.

Smart Scale scores state transportation projects based on objective factors such as safety, congestion mitigation and economic development. The Accountability Commission sets regional transportation spending priorities.

Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia “are our key economic drivers,” Layne continued. “We focused on them, and both regions are moving forward.” And although the transportation wish list isn’t totally fulfilled, in Hampton Roads, “the region came around and said, ‘We’re not giving up the future by just moving forward with what we can.’ ”

Utterback said, “I don’t think there is one panacea project, but I think when you look at the combination of projects and what we’re going to do over the next six to eight years, it should help tremendously in mobility.”

HRBT expansion

Although it’s likely almost a decade from completion, the HRBT expansion is the key to improving regional mobility, Layne said. Slated for completion in 2024, the project will add a third tunnel, expanding the water crossing from four lanes to six. The estimated cost is $4 billion, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

“The Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, with all those other improvements on that corridor, was the linchpin and the keystone project to bring it all together,” Layne said. That project “is clearly the one with the most impact that ties all this other stuff that we’re doing in.”

Although a planned third crossing, supplementing the HRBT and Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, is top of mind for many people, “I’m convinced that these (projects) all should be done before a third crossing anyway,” Layne said. “So I think we’re doing them in the right order based on the resources and the way things have worked out.”

Widening I-64

Widening 21 miles of I-64 from Jefferson Avenue in Newport News to Newman Road in York County is a three-phase project. The first segment’s estimated cost is $122 million. Work began in fall of 2015, while work on the second segment, which has an estimated cost of $189 million, began this fall. The estimated cost for the third segment is $290 million, Utterback said.

Utterback said the higher cost of the final segment is due in part to the necessity of replacing the Queen’s Creek bridges, which are more than 1,000 feet long and located near the Camp Peary exit for westbound travelers.

The I-64/I-264 interchange

The Commonwealth Transportation Board in September awarded a $107 million contract to expand and improve the ramp from I-64 west to I-264 east and Newtown Road.

According to a VDOT announcement, the project will add a second exit lane from westbound I-64, the ramp from I-64 west to I-264 east will be widened, a new two-lane collector-distributor road will be added to serve the Newtown Road interchange and a new two-lane flyover ramp will be built to provide access to I-264 east from I-64 west, to eliminate traffic weaving.

The High Rise Bridge

VDOT also recently began the design-build procurement process for a project to to widen the High Rise Bridge and adjacent highway corridors from four to six lanes.

The first phase of that two-part project, with an estimated cost of $600 million, would replace the existing High Rise Bridge with a fixed-span bridge crossing of the Elizabeth River, along with widening of three other bridges along a nearly 9-mile stretch of highway. Utterback said the new High Rise Bridge “span will be at a much higher height than the movable span we have right now. VDOT expects to award a contract for the project’s first phase next fall.

Moving forward

All of the projects are good news for transportation mobility, which translates to economic mobility, the Hampton Roads Chamber said.

“The Hampton Roads Chamber is encouraged with the recent announcements of transportation projects in the region and the methodology used to prioritize and fund them,” chamber President and CEO Bryan Stephens said in an email. “We have long been advocates of a robust multimodal transportation system in Hampton Roads which allows people and products to move efficiently and effectively throughout the region. We believe congestion relief and transportation options are critical enablers for business and economic development.”

Layne echoed that sentiment.

“I believe people will look back and say this is the year that Hampton Roads got serious and made great decisions about moving forward on transportation. Is everything perfect?” Layne said. “No, but I think we’ve moved the needle.”

A complete list and full details on the more than 80 projects that are proposed, under construction and recently completed, is available on VDOT’s Hampton Roads webpage.

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